“Putting Out Into the Deep,” In Two Tones
This order Jesus gives to Peter today, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch,” gets heard in at least two different registers.
One has been in the optimistic, adventurous key John Paul II gave to it. “Get out into the new frontiers, challenge yourselves, brace yourself and go beyond, take the daring step, move into the unknown and unexplored, go deeper than you’ve ever gone.” This is that boldness of charity, that heading out to the peripheries.
Then there’s the other tone associated with the command: “I’m scared. Right here, sitting on the edge of the drop-off, I’m petrified!” And that could well be Peter’s chord, both in this instance and others. He comes to the edge, rows across it, and then is bewildered when he’s out there. “Depart from me, Lord!” Or perhaps better, when Peter comes to the edge he hesitates – to check out the scene, to reconnoiter, to look around and especially down.
And if I put myself there in Peter’s boat with Jesus, I might hear words come up inside me like, “I’m here where I can see the shore, see the literal ‘land-marks’. Then you, Jesus, command me to go over the horizon, sail out beyond what I know, step over the line of the familiar and the predictable, row out to where the water’s way over my head. Really, Jesus? Take that kind of chance? I don’t know what’s out there nor what’s down there. Let’s look at this again. What kind of guarantees can you give me here? “
Framing it this way suggests one of those situations when we’ve heard “put out into the deep” more in its scary register than in its adventurous, let’s-do-it, tone. These were the times when the call came and you froze at the edge — or if not froze, asked for a lot more time to consider the options. These were the times when you felt you really couldn’t do I, that it was plain old beyond your capabilities. But something kept pulling you to do it anyway, kept telling you to move ahead.
One of the ways believers have come through such situations is by letting themselves be taken along, be picked up and carried forward by something more than themselves. The tone of this kind of act is not so much that a person comes to a firm definite resolution, “I will now put out my oar and deliberately row out into those depths.” It’s more a case of that person’s letting herself be moved along by something, someone else. And of course the testimony here is to God’s Holy Spirit, the hovering One who enters in, buoys up, and enables the waverer to move out into that unknown.
Here’s how St. Paul suggests that avenue to the Colossians (1:14). “Let us thank the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness, and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son…” The Father is the one in the overall scheme of things who is doing the delivering, who is ushering us through the transformation, who is carrying us through.
So, this second experience here is not so much one of myself boldly stepping forth, as it is of my leaning back, leaning onto on a shoulder that will hold me, of sitting on a lap that will carry me, of handing myself over, (or as Jesus would have it, commending myself into His Father’s hands.)
It’s not the most heroic-sounding way of being bold, of putting out into deep water. For sure it’s not the only way of setting out onto those depths. But it is one which many can recognize as the way they actually did it and most likely will continue to do it; i.e., moving into that unknown in the belief that in great part they’re being carried there by the loving hand of God, that they’re leaning on the Lord, letting Him “deliver us from that power of darkness and letting him transfer us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son.” So, Peter, when you venture out over that edge, “lean back. I’m with you here in the boat, leading, carrying, easing you into this deeper water.”
There’s John Paul’s adventurous putting out into the depths: damn the torpedoes full speed ahead, the heroic setting forth. And there’s Peter’s three-steps-ahead, two-steps-back putting out. This is the entrusting kind, the leaning variety of putting out into that deep.